Identification. The Cook Islands is an independent state in an associated-state relationship with New Zealand. It has its own parliament and government and its own laws and judiciary, but defense matters and foreign policy should be handled, according to the relationship, in consultation with New Zealand. In practice the Cook Islands has taken radically different policies on some issues from New Zealand without consultation (e.g., New Zealand forbids visits by nuclear warships whereas the Cook Islands permits them), and the Cook Islands has its own minister and ministry of foreign affairs that operate independently of those of New Zealand. The designation "Cook Islanders" includes all persons tracing genetic ancestry to one (or more) of the twelve inhabited Islands of the Cook group. This is not exclusive, however, as probably all Cook Islanders also have some non-Polynesian blood. Significant European genetic and cultural influence began about 150 years ago and has continued to the present. A relatively small African genetic but not cultural influence began not long after, but it ceased with the whaling industry in the last century. Chinese genetic influence occurred in the late nineteenth century, and a recent minor input of diverse Asian peoples is occurring. Residence within the Cook Islands is far from a necessary criterion for identity as about two-thirds of all people who consider themselves Cook Islanders live in New Zealand, Australia, or elsewhere overseas.
Location. The Cook Islands stretch from 156 to 167° W and 3 to 23° S. The total land area is only 240 square kilometers, but the sea area is nearly a thousand times larger, at 2.2 million square kilometers.
Demography. The 1986 resident population of the Cook Islands was 16,425. The population is static as the high natural growth rate is balanced by the rate of emigration to New Zealand and Australia, to both of which Cook Islanders have automatic right of entry. About 87 percent of the population live in the southern group, which are high islands, and the remainder in the northern atolls. Residents with no indigenous blood ties number in the several hundreds, most of whom are Europeans living on the capital island of Rarotonga.
Linguistic Affiliation. Each island, and in the case of Mangaia, each village had some minor linguistic differences from the others. In all cases except Pukapuka and Nassau, however, these were dialects of a basically common Eastern Polynesian Austronesian language, whose closest relatives are found in French Polynesia and New Zealand. The language of Pukapuka and Nassau is Western Polynesian, as is the Culture. Today Cook Islands Maori is the language of government and the church, and all Cook Islanders learn English in school.